College students ride to cultivate grassroots activism

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Maine is known as Vacationland, but six college students spending five weeks biking their way across the state aren’t on a typical summer road trip of beaches and theme parks.

Instead, the team is stopping to volunteer with community organizations in towns such as Lewiston, Biddeford, and Belfast, in hopes of promoting clean energy, sustainability, and grassroots activism as part of the Climate Summer project.

Hailing from all corners of the country, the team— comprised of Katie Herklotz of Blue Hill, Lauren Audi of Saratoga, N.Y., Brad Samuels of Andover, Mass., Greg LeMieux of Clinton, Ind., Avery Beck of Mount Kisco, N.Y., and Arielle Koshkin of Oakland, Calif. — rolled into Auburn on Tuesday afternoon. The Twin Cities are the third stop on their tour, and the ride from Portland, begun that morning ended eventfully with the first flat tire and “the hilliest town I’ve ever seen,” said Brad Samuels, a sophomore at Eckerd College in Florida.

Samuels and his teammates are working morning till night, sleeping in churches, living on $5 per person per day, and depending on pedal power to get around throughout the summer. “We’ve all made a commitment not to get in a car this summer,” he said.

It’s a spartan lifestyle, but it underscores a point the team hopes to make. “We want to see big changes” in the energy initiatives adopted by individual communities and the nation alike, said Audi, a Boston College sophomore.

The project takes a grassroots approach to the issues of fossil fuel dependence, pollution, and climate change, ultimately hoping for 100 percent clean energy use. To that end, they’re meeting with community members and city officials, talking to people at potluck dinners and farmer’s markets, and looking for ways to help organizations with similar goals connect.

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In early August, they and the five other Climate Summer teams will gather in Boston to compile a ‘state of the movement’ report, which will discuss the progress and initiatives of environmental and community development organizations across New England, from bike co-ops to urban gardens to tidal energy firms.

Over the next week, the team will work in Lewiston with Lots to Gardens, a CSA farmer, and a citizen’s permaculture group. On Saturday morning, they will participate in a bike parade in Kennedy Park, before riding to Augusta.

While one week isn’t a lot of time in any given city, and the energy issues at the heart of the project are not likely to be solved by a few students and their bicycles, their trek has been a success so far, they said. With the right attitude, people can work around disagreement on fossil fuels, climate change, and other environmental issues, they said.

“We’re trying to get people who want to be part of a better future,” Audi said.

In their previous stops in Biddeford and Portland, “we made enough connections with people that our work did matter,” Audi said.

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